Indiana State University Newsroom

Project Success helps students with college transition

September 9, 2009

Lauren Spaetti was anxious about starting college 150 miles from home. So she signed up for Project Success, a pilot program at Indiana State University that brought a small group of new students to campus prior to the start of the fall semester."I was nervous about everything - how hard the work would be, my class schedule and having to manage free time on my own," said the elementary education major from Rockport. "I saw Project Success as something that would give a fresh start and a chance to meet people."Spaetti was among 31 students, chosen on a first-come, first-served basis, to begin their ISU careers early for six days of classroom study and mentoring activities aimed at developing the study skills, life skills and leadership skills necessary to make the most of college. The program was created through the Division of Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications.

"When students arrive on a university campus directly from high school, many of them have never experienced being on their own for any extended period of time. This week is intended to help them transition to university life," said Jason Winkle, campus administrator of Project Success."One of the biggest things students find is the difference in the level of expectations between college and what they were used to in high school - the study skills that are needed and especially the volume of reading and writing and the rigor with which it is evaluated," said Winkle, associate dean of ISU's College of Nursing, Health, and Human Services.

"They know how to find the fun and the things that will distract them from their academics. We tried to fill their toolbox and teach them how to use those tools so they can be successful and complete their degree," said Jodi Bondy, who serves as volunteer co-director and guided a similar project at DePauw University for five years.

The program stresses five factors of academic success, including how to:• establish reasonable and realistic academic goals;• take responsibility for academic outcomes;• understand performance expectations and grading criteria;• process and utilize environmental feedback; and • search for information, including support services for major-specific and general skill assistance.

Segments included note-taking skills, self-evaluation of study practices, selecting appropriate locations to study, test-taking strategies, paper and presentation development and faculty relations.

Presenters included Patrick Barcus, a lecturer in the university's English department who offered guidance in writing.

"He taught me more in three days than I had ever learned before about writing. It's a totally different type of writing in college," Spaetti said.

"As a regular instructor of first-year writing courses, I see many students who are either under-prepared in terms of academic habits, or simply not yet mature enough to handle the continual, and often remorseless, duties of collegiate life," Barcus said. "Attrition is an obstacle that all colleges face, particularly one like ISU, which often deals with first-generation college students, and Project Success was a positive step in combating what will certainly be a continuing problem."

Students in Project Success also learned research and study skills from Cunningham Memorial Library faculty, and staff from the university's Career Center discussed what they can do now and throughout their time at ISU to help achieve the ultimate goal: a career in their chosen field.Lessons in life skills included the mundane but important, including a trip to a residence hall laundry room."We taught laundry one night. It's surprising how many kids don't know how to do laundry," said Bondy, the project's resident "mom" and the parent of three daughters who graduated from or are attending Indiana State. While the six-day schedule was packed with classes, it allowed for some relaxation, but even that was centered on learning. A scavenger hunt throughout the campus and Terre Haute city streets provided a lesson in geography and how to use mass transit while a trip to the university's Field Campus led to a unique team-building exercise.

Students were divided into three- and four-member teams and charged with constructing a cardboard boat that could carry a team-mate across a small lake.

"It definitely lived up to my expectations. I feel more prepared because of Project Success," said Spaetti. "Within the first week I had other students asking me where to go and what to do. I wasn't nervous going into the first day of classes."

That preparation will continue as participating students settle into the fall semester. Students can call Winkle or the project's resident "mom" when they need a little guidance or if they encounter a problem.

"It gives them a connection. I'm not going to fix the problem but I'm going to tell them, ‘Remember, we did this and these are the steps you need to take'," Bondy said.

"We want students to know there are an incredible amount of people here who want them to succeed. We're passionate about student success," said Winkle.

"Project Success is one of the best programs the university has implemented over the past half-decade, and perhaps one of the most crucial programs implemented under our relatively new administration because it focuses on both the academic and social aspects of university life," said Barcus. "The students who participated in the program will be steps ahead of their first-year counterparts who simply came straight to school when the semester began.Project Success is just one initiative aimed at improving student outcomes. A new position of associate vice president for student success was created this summer. University officials hope additional programs will be developed and that Project Success can be offered to more students next year.

Photo: -Lauren Spaetti of Rockport helps cardboard boater Katie Bynum of Bloomington as part of a team-building exercise during Project Success, a pilot program to help new Indiana State University students develop academic, leadership and life skills. (Courtesy of Jodi Bondy)

Contact: Jason Winkle, associate dean, College of Nursing, Health, and Human Services and director, Project Success, Indiana State University, 812-237-4053 or

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or